Each week during the football season, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming game ahead. It’s a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.
In our fourth roundtable of the football season, Jeff Sharon, Jeremy Brener, Eric Lopez, Brian Murphy, Derek Warden and Andrew Gluchov take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about the UCF Knights and their matchup with the Tulane Green Wave.
1) It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen UCF in the win column. How can the Knights get back there Saturday?
Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon): Last week we did see some significant improvement on the offensive line, particularly with keeping the penalties to a minimum. However, there were several personal fouls and other flags that were costly. The return of starting linebackers Eriq Gilyard and Eric Mitchell should help tremendously. Gilyard didn’t play at Memphis and Mitchell left with an injury with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the third, when it was 35-14 UCF. Memphis proceeded to score 36 points in 23 minutes without him on the field. SO maintain discipline on defense and UCF should be OK.
Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): They need to play a complete game of football. The Knights have held three-touchdown leads in each of their losses this season but can’t find a way to finish. Playing four quarters of football in all phases is what they’ll need. Not every opponent is a Georgia Tech or an ECU. Tulane will rock their cage a bit and UCF needs to be prepared to make the same plays in the fourth quarter that they have in the first three quarters.
Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO): UCF will have to win the line of scrimmage battle. Tulane will want to dominate up front with its O-line and running game. On the other side of the ball, they have a veteran defensive front and a good pass rush led by Patrick Johnson, who has 19.5 career sacks.
Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy): Tulane's offense isn't as powerful as Memphis', and its defense isn't as unique as Tulsa's. This really comes down to UCF simply playing clean, smart football. If the Knights don't sidetrack their own offense as they did two weeks ago and don't shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly on defense as they did last week, this game shouldn't hold much tension. It sounds simple, but simple things have been a problem for this team this year. As secondary coach Willie Martinez said numerous times on Tuesday, the Knights must "do simple better." That seems to be one of the more ubiquitous messages circulating throughout defensive meeting rooms this week, but it applies to everyone.
Derek Warden (@_dswarden): The short answer is to get a stop on defense, especially in the second half. The slightly longer answer is to stay healthy in the middle of the defense and get pressure on the QB so our corners don’t have to commit pass interferences. The first part should be easy, since we’ll have Eric and Eriq back. However, Tulane isn’t as talented as Memphis, so if this becomes another game of whoever scores last wins, I’m comfortable picking UCF.
Andrew Gluchov (@StatBoyDrew): Getting players back in key places. Last week, the lack of depth on defense really hurt. Eriq Gilyard missed the game and Eric Mitchell got hurt during the third quarter when the game tilted toward Memphis’ favor. Having the team’s two starting linebackers ready to go should help against a scrappy Tulane team that has fallen victim to similar losing situations as UCF.
2) Which Tulane player do the Knights need to keep an eye on?
Jeff: UCF has had trouble dealing with teams with good linebackers (see: Tulsa), and Tulane has a couple of good ones in Dorian Williams and Marvin Moody. Those two have combined for 72 tackles, 12 TFLs and two sacks. If UCF is going to neutralize these guys, it’ll be up to the offensive line to establish the run and open up play action for Dillon Gabriel.
Jeremy: Tulane has had inconsistency at the quarterback position this season but has been effective on the ground. Five guys have carried the ball 30 or more times in the first five games. Stephon Huderson became the team’s leading rusher after a great performance against SMU, so keep an eye on him. But at this point, the Tulane backfield poses multiple threats and UCF needs to be prepared for all of them.
Eric: Tulane's rushing combo of Cameron Carroll and Stephon Huderson. Carroll has rushed for 297 yards and leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns. Huderson leads the Green Wave with 309 yards and a 7.0 yards-per-carry average.
Brian: If Tulane is able to work itself into third-and-short situations, watch true freshman quarterback Michael Pratt use his legs to pick up first downs and leave UCF’s offense helpless on the sidelines. Pratt, a Deerfield Beach native, is nowhere close to a finished product as a passer — his completion rate is a cringeworthy 43.8%. But he’s a good athlete and if UCF loses contain like it did last week against Brady White, it’s going to be a frustrating afternoon for this defense.
Derek: Whoever has the ball in Tulane’s backfield. Their QB shouldn’t hurt us with his arm, but we haven’t shown an ability to contain a mobile quarterback this year. If our ends can prevent themselves from rushing past their contain, our secondary should feast on low-accuracy passes.
Andrew: Tulane is a run-team first, so I'm with Eric. The Knights have been inconsistent against the run, but with their regularly scheduled linebackers back on the field, they will be busy. It wouldn't surprise me if UCF uses more of a 4-3 defensive alignment, brings in an extra linebacker and dares freshman QB Michael Pratt to win it through the air.
3) The defense put out their worst showing last week, allowing 50 points to the Memphis Tigers. What’s the key to the defense’s success?
Jeff: They have to stop the run. UCF is 68th in the nation in rush defense. Missed tackles and failure to contain have been problems this season. As a result, the defense has gotten gassed and gashed in the second half.
Jeremy: Finish tackles. That’s the easy answer. I also think that the coaches put them in bad spots and Randy Shannon couldn’t find an answer for Memphis’ offense. However, I’m expecting a lot of running plays from Tulane Saturday, so tackling is the biggest key to ensuring the Knights don’t give up 50 again.
Eric: UCF's defense will need to get off the field. As I mentioned on this week’s podcast, Tulane ranks 10th in country in rushing offense, averaging 232 yards per game. UCF has to do a better job on third and even fourth downs against the Green Wave, who will want to control the clock and keep UCF's offense on the sidelines.
Brian: Last week, UCF’s defense jumped offsides on a fourth-and-4 play, had multiple personal foul penalties, saw a sack negated by defensive holding and was ultimately flagged nine times for 91 yards. As much as people want to rant about the flags on the other side of the ball, UCF is an equal-opportunity offender.
“We’re giving them second chances. Fourth down, penalty. They got another shot, first down,” Martinez said. “... We’ve got to be smarter. We’ve got to be more disciplined in those situations of giving them the second chances. We’re not taking anything away from the offense. But there’s been a lot of help on our side of it, too.”
Bottom line: This defense must stop thwarting itself.
Derek: Do the opposite of what they did in the second half against Memphis. Or do what they did in the first half against Memphis. Better yet, do both.
Also, is it time to put out an APB for second-half Randy Shannon?
Andrew: This is a two-part answer. First, the offense needs to slow down a bit to allow the defense to rest. I get that everyone likes UCFast, but that speed directly contributed to the defense gassing out last week. It doesn’t help that the offense is not designed to slow down all that much and when they did, they didn’t move the ball all that well.
The second part is that the defense has to play efficiently and get a little luck to avoid the injury bug. UCF can't afford to allow Tulane’s offense to get a few first downs on every drive. That just wears them down. The defense will need to be aggressive, but reserved enough to bend but not break. Tulane's running attack will hit hard and often, so while the Knights need to focus on the run, they can't give up third-down passing conversions.
4) How hot or cold are the seats of the coaching staff, including Josh Heupel?
Jeremy: I think it’s much colder than anyone on the #FireHeupel train wants it to be. Overall, Heupel has maintained a decent job and could very easily have won every game he’s coached here in three years. It’s going to be hard to fire a guy that has you competing in every game. That being said, the lack of discipline shown this season is very concerning from the countless false starts to the inability to finish tackles to Quadry Jones nearly fighting Daniel Obarski after the game last week. Heupel needs to take responsibility for it.
Eric: Frosty cold. Josh Heupel is under contract through 2024. The “Fire Heupel” chatter is nonsense, especially in today’s world where college athletics is losing money. This is not a good time to be firing coaches, especially a coach who is only in his third season and has won 24 games and counting in his first 2+ seasons. I think you may see some tweaks on the coaching staff at the end of season if things do not improve in certain areas, but Heupel will be here unless he leaves for another head coaching job.
Brian: Hahahahaha. Stop. Yes, there will be some changes to the staff after the season; there always are. Heupel isn’t going anywhere unless he wants to. If the bottom falls out and this team finishes, like, 2-7, maybe we can have a deeper discussion. But that’s not going to happen, so this topic is just a waste of time.
Derek: I’ll let Andre 3000 answer this: “What’s cooler than being cool? Ice Cold.”
Andrew: Jeff’s picture is about right. The only way Josh Heupel leaves is if someone hires him away. UCF can’t afford to fire Heupel even if they wanted to and it’s hard to justify firing a coach that has had double-digit wins in each of his first two seasons. That reminds me of when Nebraska fired Frank Solich after a nine-win season and a 58-19 overall record. Now, Randy Shannon is another story. He has an atypical three-year contract that expires at the end of this season and is the highest-paid assistant in the G5. Granted, Florida paid a large portion of the cost during the first two years, but this year is all on UCF. Unless the price tag comes way down, I can’t see Danny White being justified in spending that much money on an assistant, especially after COVID-19 turned the budget sideways.
5) Score prediction.
Jeremy: Tulane is going to give UCF a game. The times when we can expect a UCF win every week are past us. Don’t get me wrong, UCF can very easily win this game, but they’ll need to play a full 60 minutes. I’ve got UCF 38, Tulane 31.
Eric: If Tulane has success controlling the clock and wins the battle in the trenches, it’ll be a close game. Both teams have blown double-digit leads twice this season, so maybe UCF would be better off trailing by double digits! Just kidding — sort of. UCF gets back on track. UCF 48, Tulane 31.
Brian: The Knights are favored by 19.5 points and as has often been the case this season, including last week, their game has the highest over-under on the board: 72. At this point, taking the under in any UCF game is giving money away. Tulane’s offense shouldn’t be able to stay with UCF’s, but until we see this defense play up to its talent, the final score will probably be closer than Vegas thinks.
So, while Jeff sits in his ivory tower of neutrality, I’ll say: UCF 45, Tulane 34.
Derek: Coach Heupel does not like to run up the score on his opponents, it seems. That’s very honorable and respectable. He needs to stop that. Also, our defense needs to play up to their talent and potential. I’m also terrible at gambling (which is why I don’t do it), so whatever I say next, the opposite will be true (except for the win, which will happen): UCF doesn’t cover, but hits the over. UCF tops Tulane, 45-28.
Andrew: Tulane is a scrappy team, but this Knights team has to be collectively pissed after everything that has gone wrong. It shouldn’t be hard to find the drive to want to pound someone into submission out of pure frustration. With an offense that is shattering records and a more healthy defense, UCF gets back on the winning track. UCF 35, Tulane 21.